Morphine Addiction Treatment

Learn more about morphine addiction symptoms, treatment, and recovery

What is morphine?

Morphine is a powerful opioid medication approved by the FDA to treat moderate to severe pain. It is commonly used to provide relief during end-of-life care, active cancer treatment, and crisis in sickle cell disease. It is also sometimes prescribed to manage cough and post-surgical pain. Off-label, this medicine is administered for conditions that cause around-the-clock pain.

Morphine is sold under brand names like Avinza and Roxanol. It is available as a solution, an extended-release tablet or capsule, and may be injected intravenously. Despite being an effective pain reliever, doctors have become more cautious about prescribing it because it can be habit-forming due. Another concern is that users often develop a tolerance to its effects fairly quickly.

Morphine has played a major role in the opioid epidemic, which led to the criminalization of morphine possession without a prescription in many places. When used and distributed illicitly, it is sometimes described as M, Miss Emma, Monkey, and White Stuff. Misuse of this narcotic can produce dangerous and long-term consequences. In severe cases, it can lead to death.

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Effects of morphine

When morphine is administered, it activates the natural opioid receptors in the brain. This produces effects on the body that include:

  • Strong pain relief
  • Euphoria
  • Sedation
  • Sleepiness
  • Cough relief

Morphine can also reduce anxiety and provide an artificial sense of well-being. Other effects include muscle spasms, constriction of the pupil (pin-prick pupils), and histamine release in the central nervous system.

Side effects and adverse consequences of morphine can include:

  • Constipation
  • Central nervous system depression
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Urinary retention
  • Despondency
  • Lightheadedness
  • Agitation
  • Dry mouth
  • Flushed skin
  • low blood pressure

Because morphine is highly addictive, caution is required during use. When this medication is prescribed to manage pain, it is advisable to speak to a doctor about tapering (dose lowering) methods to reduce the risk of withdrawal.

Signs of morphine addiction

Even when it’s prescribed for legitimate pain, the use of morphine can lead to physical dependence and ultimately, opioid use disorder. The most important symptoms of opioid addiction occur when use affects a person’s life—physical health, mental health, relationships, work performance, and financial well-being. But there are some red flags that may indicate that a person who takes morphine may need to be concerned about their use:

  • Dilated pupils
  • Slurring while speaking
  • Poor concentration
  • Shallow breathing
  • Ignoring professional and personal duties
  • Irritation
  • Mood swings
  • Switching doctors for a steady supply of morphine

Treatment for morphine overdose

When a person is suspected of having a morphine overdose, it’s vital that they receive urgent medical attention. Naloxone (brand name Narcan) is an opioid-overdose reversal medication that can and should be administered immediately to treat the symptoms. This rescue medication rapidly binds to opioid receptors in the body, blocking the effects of the morphine.

The most common form of naloxone is an easy-to-administer nasal spray. It’s important that a person who experiences an overdose receives medical care even if naloxone is given, so call 911. Most states have Good Samaritan laws protecting people who call emergency services in case of overdose.

Morphine addiction treatment

Morphine is an opioid, and the gold-standard treatment for opioid addiction is medication-assisted treatment (MAT). The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration defines MAT as “the use of medications, in combination with counseling and behavioral therapies, to provide a “whole-patient” approach to the treatment of substance use disorders.” 

Medication
The core of MAT is medication that has been FDA-approved to treat opioid use disorder. Buprenorphine and methadone are medications that reduce cravings by stimulating the opioid receptors in the brain. These medications help to stabilize long-term recovery and lower the risk of relapse. Naltrexone is another medication approved by the FDA to treat opioid addiction that operates by binding to and blocking opioid receptors in the brain. Workit Health prescribes buprenorphine in formulations that combine it with naloxone to prevent diversion and misuse (like Suboxone), and also prescribes naltrexone. Workit does not prescribe methadone, which is subject to more stringent regulations and monitoring requirements.

Many people who use opioids want to stop but are afraid of going through withdrawal. To be fair, opioid withdrawal can be a miserable experience. Your healthcare provider can suggest options—prescriptions, over-the-counter medications, and self-care—to help with the discomfort.

Behavioral Therapy
Behavioral health support is an important component of MAT. Counseling techniques like cognitive behavioral therapy can help to navigate addiction. Talk therapy, group counseling, and therapeutic courses can help people in recovery identify and navigate their triggers, set goals, and learn to modify negative attitudes and behaviors. 

Some treatment centers and rehab centers provide both options, but many do not support MAT. 

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Citations

1. Murphy, P. B., Bechmann, S., & Barrett, M. J. Morphine. [Updated 2021 May 30]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan-.

2. Iwu.edu. Illinois drug laws.

3. Listos, J., Łupina, M., Talarek, S., Mazur, A., Orzelska-Górka, J., and Kotlińska, J. The Mechanisms Involved in Morphine Addiction: An Overview. Int J Mol Sci. 2019;20(17):4302. Published 2019 Sep 3. doi:10.3390/ijms20174302

4. LiverTox: Clinical and Research Information on Drug-Induced Liver Injury [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases; 2012-. Morphine. [Updated 2020 Nov 24].

5. World Health Organization. Opioid Overdose. August 4 2021

6. NIDA. Effective Treatments for Opioid Addiction. National Institute on Drug Abuse website. https://nida.nih.gov/publications/effective-treatments-opioid-addiction. November 1, 2016 Accessed March 28, 2022.

7. Ducharme, S., Fraser, R., & Gill, K. Update on the clinical use of buprenorphine: in opioid-related disorders. Can Fam Physician. 2012;58(1):37-41.

8. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Naloxone DrugFacts. January 2022